Category Archives: Food

BLOG – RANDOM THOUGHTS ON PASTA & PIZZA No.2 Pizza

A good night's work for Gianluca and me - a dozen pizzas and some bread for breakfast

I’ve had my outdoor pizza oven for a year now and I think last Saturday was the first night I’ve really felt confident with it. This was due in no small measure to the calming presence of Leslie Williams who is further down the pizza trail than me.

The building of the oven is fairly fully documented elsewhere on this forum http://forkncork.com/pizza-progress/ + http://forkncork.com/pizza-oven-thats-amore/ and that both the oven itself, an Italian Linea, supplied by Ian from Terracotta Warehouse in Manchester ( www.terracottawarehouse.co.uk ) and the base that I had conceived for it are pretty sound. Were I to do it again I’d make the plinth a couple of inches wider all round so I could put more cladding on. It would also allow me to build a weather-beating brick and tile roof over the oven if I so wished, although I like the ‘mini-mosque’ look of the dome.  I’d maybe double the amount of insulation under the oven floor. That apart, it’s spot on. For the top skin I used ‘Segrelime’ a system devised by Ian to protect the oven against the ravages of the Irish climate – chiefly piss rain and, last winter, surprisingly, a horrendous amount of snow and frost. In the event, it didn’t work. Massive cracks (in the top surface only) appeared and it was clear the ‘Segrelime’ – a compound of lime, insulating granules and some mysterious liquid as far as I remember – hadn’t adhered properly to the surface below. After a deal of deliberation I consulted a company called Dineen Refractory who hang out at Athy (well, sort of near Athy, I’d probably never find it again). Dineen, who specialize in building materials with a what you might call a calorific content – from chimney pots to kiln-building materials, were very helpful. After listening to my problems they sold me two bags of a two-pack compound they call ‘Castable’. One element is a high alumina cement, the other, what the manager called ‘grog’ (some kind of aggregate). Mixed together with water  the compound is used for cladding kilns and has been tested up to 1600 degrees  – whether Fahrenheit or Celsius that’s far more than I need. It wasn’t cheap – you can get a back of hydraulic lime for about €4. My ‘Castable’ cost almost €80 but if it did the job that was fine by me.

Gianluca's new 'castable' top skin. Maybe not as pretty as before but a helluva sight more durable - and that's the bottom line!

I was advised to put the material on over the existing surface and that’s what I did. It was easy to clad the top of the oven, which is relatively flat. The steep sides, however, presented a problem. In the end I resorted to making ‘mud pies’ and plastering them on by hand. Alas, with about 2 square feet to go I ran out of material and had to order another bag. Dineen kindly sent it up with a courier, who charged me a tenner, fair I thought. Early days, but the ‘Castable’ seems to have worked a treat, forming a tough and, thus far, weatherproof hard skin. You can now rest a hand on the top of the oven while the fire is roaring, proof that the insulation is working.

An awful lot of topping. Looks like a formula for an accidental calzone!

FIRE The first mistake I made was to have the logs too big. These are fine for stoves used for room heating but useless if you want to crank the oven up to 400 C quickly. 12cm/5 inch – 20cm/8 inch hardwood logs split lengthways into four are perfect. To this end I bought a big, sharp axe. A bag of kindling is also useful for getting things started and building a fire fast. An old-fashioned bellows is handy  – if anyone in your family is going to Morocco on holiday, they sell them on markets there. I soon found that a broad, flat fire works better than a tall, narrow, teepee-shaped one. Reading a book on the early days of steam locomotion it seems that drivers and firemen on the Great Western Railway discovered the same thing! The aim is to have the fire cover as much of the floor surface as possible before you sweep it to the back or side to create a hot surface for cooking.

DOUGH I’ve acknowledged Marcela Hazan as the source of my pasta recipe. My pizza dough comes from Alice Waters of Chez Panisse  via River Café Yellow, except that I’ve replaced her rye flour with semolina.

4 tsp granular dried yeast

125ml warm water 150g semolina flour

250ml warm water

2 tbsp milk

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp sea salt

500g ‘00’ flour

Makes 6 ten inch pizzas.

Step One

Warm a bowl large enough to take the total mixture. Mix the yeast with the warm water in the warm bowl and stir till melted. Leave in a warm place for at least 30 mins, until it forms ‘a sponge’ –  a good description, this.  Then add the rest of the ingredients. Knead by hand (my method) for 20 minutes or in a food processor with a dough hook (AW’s) for 15. The dough should still be wet and sticky – this gives a crisper crust. Place the dough in a bowl, greased with extras olive oil and drizzle a little over the top. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for two hours.

Step Two

Knock the dough back, leave in a warm place to rise again for a further 40 minutes. This is pretty pluperfect stuff – I must confess that, when pressed, I’ve cut these times to 1 hour/30 minutes without it making much difference to the finished pizza. Here, River café and I diverge. They say roll out into 6 golf ball sized pieces to make a ten-inch pizza. I find this doesn’t work for me (or indeed for Leslie). Both of us had trouble getting the golf ball to stretch beyond 9 inches in diameter. Anyhow, try for yourself. It’s no big deal to take a slightly larger lump of dough.

So, onwards and upwards. Crank the fire up to 350-400 C and you are ready to go. Push the fire to the back or a side, keep it going with a couple more small logs and work away. You want big blaze, with little smoke. Flour the rolling surface well, also the pizza paddle, particularly near the front edge.

On no account load the pizza on the countertop – get the base on the paddle and then load. And don’t overload the pizza – this has been the cause of more accidental concertina calzones in my early days as a pizza shoveller. Get the pizza on the paddle, then load. Be sparing with the tomato sauce and keep it away from the edges. When loaded up, ferry it to the oven, de-paddle it and be prepared to turn the pizza with the paddle to prevent the edges burning. It should cook in under two minutes.

Leslie drew the short straw, the twylight shift, pissing down with rain. Lucky me was indoors fettling pasta. You win some, you lose some.

TOP TIP Make more pizza dough than you need – you probably will anyway. You can use it to make schiacciata or focaccia – flat bread – when the oven is dying down (below 200 C). Work some slivers of black olive into the dough and form into a ciabata shape. Push dimples in the top with fingers or the handle of a wooden spoon; anoint with sea salt and fresh rosemary leaves and drizzle with good olive oil. Remove from oven when it’s baked (knock on the bottom, if it sounds hollow, it’s done)  – important this, as (under the affluence of incohol) I’ve sometimes forgotten and, sweeping out the oven next day, wondered what the big black stone was. SECOND TOP TIP Don’t go for broke and make 12 inch pizzas from the off (I learned this the hard way). Make 8 inch pizzas and increase the size as you get more confident. I’ve also smoked chickens and, best of all, racks of pork in ‘Gianluca’ –  the nickname bestowed on me by my regular customers when I had my café, on account of a fancied resemblance to Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea footballer, after I’d had a very short haircut.

BLOG – RANDOM THOUGHTS ON PASTA AND PIZZA No.1. Pasta

As I say below, I'm NOT an expert

Whalley’s First Law of Pastatherapy: To make pasta successfully you need three arms + a table 12 inches wide x 18 feet long + one of those old-fashioned clothes drying racks that winds up to the ceiling.

Fresh, homemade pasta is so much better than anything you can get at the shops. In Ireland, at least.

My pasta recipe is pure Marcella Hazan (Classic Italian Cookbook)* For 1 person 1 medium egg + 100g ‘00’ flour, no salt or oil and positively no water. You can scale up exactly to accommodate a larger number 6 eggs + 600g flour for six persons. A good tip she gave, which I’ve adopted is, when making pasta for stuffing (tortellini, ravioli etc) add 1 tsp milk for every 100g flour. This makes the pasta easier to seal after the stuffing is added.

I start the process by heaping the flour into a pyramid on the granite worktop, pushing a hole in the middle and drop the eggs, one by one, into the crater. You can use a large bowl if you wish. Stir the material briefly with a wooden spoon, roughly combining the eggs and flour. Then work the embryo dough into a ball by hand, giving it a light biffing. Hurling it down on the counter is very theraputic if you are having a bad day!

Clingfilm the ball of dough and chill in the fridge, for thirty minutes. Next, it’s out with my Imperia Pasta Presto, the electric version (so much easier than the hand-cranked version because the speed is a constant. Also you have a spare arm). Stretch the dough, flour both sides with a little ‘00’ and feed the dough through the rollers on the widest setting (6 on this machine). Repeat another 9 times, flouring the dough each time. Don’t worry about over-flouring, any excess will fall off when the pasta eventually meets the boiling water. Then reduce the machine setting by one notch for each pass and continue the process, only don’t fold the dough.

Trim the strip of pasta to keep the ends square – amalgamate the trimmings into a ball and save for cleaning the machine afterwards. Never be ashamed to cut the strip of dough for easier handling – it gets longer as it gets thinner. The less you cut it, though, the less work the process is and the less risk of the pasta sticking to the worktop. But it takes an expert to keep 18 feet of pasta in the air – and I’m not.

He is, though. My teacher at a pasta masterclass at Serego Alighieri

For most pasta – lasagna sheets, fettuccini, tagliatelle, linguine – stop at notch 2. If you are making, say, wontons, you can pass it through to the thinnest setting. When you reach the desired thickness pass the machine through the cutters. The Pasta Presto has two – for tagliatelle and linguine – but others can be bought as accessories that fit all Imperia machines.

 

Hang the pasta to dry – keeping the strips as far apart as you can. This is not terribly important if you are going to cook the pasta straight away. You can hang it over the back of a chair. Or make or buy a version of what I call ‘a pasta tree’, a wooden rack with a number of arms, specifically invented for the purpose. Lastly, clean the machine by stretching, folding and passing through several times on the 6 setting the ball of pasta trimmings. Finish off with three folds of kitchen towel passed through a few times on the 2 setting. Finally, pass the kitchen paper through the cutters. Dust off any excess flour on the sides of the machine with a soft cloth or pastry brush. On no account let water near the machine, this is a formula for grief.

I love my Pasta Presto. The hand-cranked machines are much cheaper, though. The Imperia and the Marcato Atlas are the only ones to have. I’ve inspected a few budget machines and the workmanship (and probably materials too) is poor and I wouldn’t expect them to last too long. The good makes are cheap enough – Amazon.co.uk is a good source and their delivery is prompt. The Imperia is £43 at the writing, plus delivery (around a tenner). Both Imperia and Atlas have a bolt-on electric motor as an accessory for the hand-cranked model.

You can also make pasta entirely by hand. It’s easy enough, if exhausting. I did quite a bit for practice before I bought the machine. Just keep rolling the dough out, remembering to flour. After all the rolling you’ll feel as though you’ve been to the gym.

Cut the strips with a very sharp knife and a metal ruler or by eye alone and hang at least half an hour to dry. When cooking the pasta use a large pan, with plenty of water and a generous measure of salt (remember, there’s no salt in the recipe). I use about a slightly heaped dessertspoonful per 600g. Don’t introduce the pasta to the pan until the water is at a rolling boil. Don’t overcook, tagliatelle cook in under two minutes. Remove, ideally with a pasta grabber (most cook shops sell them) and drain before serving. If you can’t use the pasta immediately it will keep 5 minutes or so in the drained pan, coated with a little extra virgin olive oil.

*In a later cookbook Marcela used 1 egg to 90g of flour but I’ve stuck with the original.

TASTING AUSTRALIA 2012 – “Bring it on!”

Just received the news that the next Tasting Australia –  April 26 to May 3, 2012 will be the last, at least in Adelaide. Amazingly, next year will be the eighth time this biennial festival has been held. I’ve been at the last four and, if I get the call, I’ll be in ‘The City of Churches’ next year for the last hurrah. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Since its inception in 1997, Tasting Australia has become a huge international success, providing a unique opportunity for chefs of the celebrity and the ‘up-and-coming’ ilk, restaurateurs, food producers and winemakers to mingle with the world’s food, drink and travel media at, at the same time, sample and celebrate some of the best that Australia has to offer in the way of produce, food products, wines, beers, hospitality and tourism. It’s also a significant event for the public at large. Many of the world’s best known culinary talents demonstrate their expertise on a daily basis. In addition there’s a full programme of ancillary events including talks, discussions and debates, all aimed at the food conscious – truly a ‘Feast for The Senses’ as more than 60 such events are planned. And it’s not all in the mind – during the festival there’s a wealth of gourmet food and drink to be sampled, in a scenic setting along the banks of the River Torrens. When you take into account that South Australia’s famous wine regions which also host some ace artisan food producers are a convenient drive from the city, there are many worse places that the dedicated foodie could be than Adelaide on those 8 days in May/June… ..and few better.

I shall miss Adelaide. Since I started going to Tasting Australia it’s come to seem like a second home. I arrive and check in at The Intercon (used to be The Hyatt). I take the elevator to my room. Inside, the light on the bedside phone glows. I pick it up and find eight messages of welcome – “Saw your name on the guest list, be great to see you, in the bar at half-six?” I wander uptown, off to the Hatters to pick up a new Panama; go over to Browns where they sell stylish threads in Size Fat Bastard; pop into the wonderful Star of Siam for a spot of lunch; then into the amazing Central Market. I return to the hotel clutching half a dozen fragrant white peaches, some brilliant Barossa kabanossi and yet another second hand lens for the Nikon. A quick shower and I’m ready to face the world  downstairs. Ah, there’s David from KL, Shannon from Melbourne, and oh my god Bhisham from Bombay! Brenda and Rick ‘that bloody Spurs supporter’ from Sydney, Jools and Catherine from NZ, Toni ‘the 13th famous Belgian’ and a whole host more. One big rolling, bloody party.

Memories, memories… Me and Paul Rankin getting an upgrade to First of Malaysian Airways. Like travelling on your own private cloud, complete with a cut glass decanter of Otard cognac to which we did a deal of damage. Paul getting mobbed by pretty hostesses at KL airport. Me convincing him “They think you’re Billy Connelly, his shtick goes down big here.” Late nights in The Apothecary 1878…

..Playing one of my songs on Australian radio accompanied by Festival front man, the inimitable Ian Parmenter on gob harp. Doing dinner at Magill Estate with Peter Gago and being given the opportunity to revisit the 1986 Grange.  Acting as Rosemary Shrager’s guide and roadie in The Central Market. Her TV stuff is big in Oz. It felt a bit like walking round Calcutta with Mother Teresa in tow. A woman actually came up and told her “You’ve changed my life”. Cheong Liew’s feast at The Hilton. Getting locked out of my room at Chapel Hill and thereby becoming part of the folklore of wonderful MacLaren Vale. Being with Will Studd, Australia’s answer to the Sheridan brothers, when the news came in that Bill Hogan (Desmond & Gabriel) had won his case against the ‘Food Police’. The impromptu seafood festival at Michael Angelis’ house. Maggie Beer in the kitchen, flashing that 1000 watt and dead genuine smile. Oysters, mussels, crab, lobster, clams, various white fish, smoked salmon and the best taramasalata I’ve ever tasted. Wonderful wines too and some Talisker 10 to top off the evening… .. Antonio Carluccio’s gargantuan collection of (mostly filthy) jokes. Listening to the stall holders’ choir at Willunga market. A memorable long lunch at Fino. With Sydney journo and surfing queen Julica Jungelhuising, spiking the drink of a gobshite journalist by mixing black currant cordial with his Merlot. He was very impressed “particularly with the bouquet”.  Trying and failing to surf in company with Rachel Allen.

Beauties and The Beast

Singing a medley from ‘Oklahoma’ with a busload of convivial people. Learning what ‘a cleansing ale’ means and getting thoroughly cleansed.

Of course it’s not all beer and skittles, nor wine and ‘pokies’ (slot machines to you). For the food and drink writer there’s a very serious subtext to Tasting Australia. A lot to visit, see and taste and a big learning curve to boot. The programme is not for the faint hearted, you need stamina for this gig, matey. We are up early and on the bus, back late and ‘hanging’ as we say here in Ireland. But in the process I learned a hell of a lot about Australian food and Australian wines and the Australian attitude which seems to be  ‘can do’ rather than ‘it’ll do’.

An introduction to Australian native tucker at Langhorne Creek

I can’t leave Tasting Australia without mentioning that it is simply the best organized gig ever and one that all other festival/conference/seminar/food and wine tour organizers should take a look at.  Things happen when and where the programme says they will. Journalists, normally considered an irrelevance if not a nuisance for getting in the way of the guests and celebs, are extremely well catered for. Our wants and needs are understood. The press centre has PCs and power sockets aplenty; there’s an interview room; space for chilling out as well as for partying and a press kit that lacks for nothing, with decent bags to carry it in. Not to mention the provision of good espresso to give you the much needed wake up call before you set out and a fridge full of James Squire’s finest ale to welcome you back to base after an exhausting day.

Family resemblance?

ANOTHER CRAP PIECE OF BEEF

It does seem churlish to moan about a bit of meat while the cities of Britain are on fire.

Still, I’m fed up to the back teeth – the front ones are pretty sore too –  with eating average-to-bad steak as well as having to listen to my food writing friends extolling the quality of Irish beef, a quality I must say I’ve rarely found.

This particular carnivore’s nightmare – almost the worst I’ve ever had – was one of four sirloin steaks, purchased for me down the country, from a craft butcher of some local repute. To compound the crime the person who bought the meat is actually related to the butcher! God help his enemies.

The meat – cooked approx 4 minutes a side and then rested – was tough as teak. It was also tasteless. What’s more a 300g steak yielded  a good 80g of  inedibles (fat, gristle, sinew and even bone).

Personally I doubt it was sirloin, except that the person who bought it assured me it was “cut fresh from a big loin”.

There is a deal of arrant nonsense perpetrated by Irish food writers concerning the quality of Irish beef. Many of them are, of course, pampered by restaurateurs and fall for the hype. This lures them into pronouncing that the finest beef in the world comes from the Irish Angus or the Dexter. That is so wrong, in my opinion. There is absolutely no reason why a Charolais, Chianina or Hereford, well fed, pastured and pampered, could produce beef at least the equal of the Angus – which, almost invariably, is only a half breed in any event. As for the Dexter, its fame rests in its compact size, not in the quality of the meat. The Dexter is an all-rounder – fair-to-decent beef and a high milk yield too. It was traditionally a cow for the smallholder who wanted to look down on his pig-owning neighbour.

There are a couple of restaurants in Dublin who make a feature of Dexter beef. Curiously enough, theirs comes from Wales.

I’ll repeat what I said on Facebook a couple of months ago – the most memorable beef I’ve had was in Navarre. Second was Tuscany. Third, probably the UK. And while I’m at it I’ll pose the questions “Does the best of Irish beef go abroad? Or (through organisations like Messrs Russell and Kettyle), direct to the restaurant trade? Is the Irish consumer effectively getting third pick when he/she goes to their local butcher?”

LAVENDER ICE CREAM AND A FAVOURITE DESSERT

Now the lavender in the garden is in bloom it’s time to make one of my favourites and certainly one of the most intriguing ice creams. Lavender ice cream, being quite perfumed, is not to everyone’s taste. That said, I love it, particularly teamed with home made aniseed cookies  or shortbread biscuits spiced up with small silvers of fresh ginger.

LAVENDER ICE CREAM

I got the  recipe originally  from Roger Vergé whose “Entertaining in The French Style” has long been one of my favourite books. Since I got my own ice cream maker – an Italian Nemox Gelato 1700 with a sex, shiny aluminium body and its own refrigeration unit, I’ve modified the recipe. My basic vanilla ice cream is :-

VANILLA ICE CREAM

150g vanilla sugar – I keep a jar of caster sugar with 5-6 vanilla pods in it for this purpose

300 g milk – Glenisk whole organic is my preference

200g single cream

4 egg yolks

I switch on the machine; whisk all the ingredients together with a hand blender until light and foamy and then pour the mixture into the Nemox’s bowl. This machine is expensive but really does the trick. The inexpensive Magimix machines, the ones where you put the bowl into the freezer before starting, work reasonably well – I’ve had two – but are less convenient and, I’ve found, quite fragile as the plastic pegs that locate the lid tend to snap under the strain. You finish up with a brick to hold the lid down!

This particular ice cream is a fresh egg, non-custard one so needs to be eaten up pretty rapidly – not that that’s a problem in our house.

For the lavender version I substitute ordinary caster sugar, plus the flowers from 6 sprigs of lavender. I take a cupful of the sugar, combine it with the lavender and whizz in my food processor until the lavender is reduced to powder.

AFFOGATO

Currently my favourite dessert, especially when made with my own fresh-roasted Central American arabica coffee and Nardini’s Mandorla – an almond-flavoured grappa, available from the excellent Celtic Whisky Shop in Dawson Street, Dublin.

Preheat the oven to 230C.

1 handful slivered almonds

1 scoop vanilla ice cream

1 single shot espresso

1 shot Mandorla or grappa

In a flat dish, toast the almonds until they turn a pale-to-mid brown. Place a scoop of ice cream in each bowl (or, preferably, an elegant glass).  Add a shot of espresso and one of the Mandorla or plain grappa. Garnish with the toasted almonds.

 

KITCHEN HERO? KITCHEN DEVIL? IRISH FOOD BLOGGER’S TV SPLITS OPINION

There’s a  fine old ding-dong going on over on the forum pages about Irish food blogger Donal Skehan’s ‘Kitchen Hero’.

Irish TV production companies have never been noted for giving us anything that resembles creativity. Lack of imagination, low budgets, whatever… .. something always seems to get in the way.

RTE like to  genuflect towards what’s going on over the water –  Rachel Allen was configured as ‘The Irish Nigella’, camera thrust between cleavage at every opportunity, particularly in the early series. Come hell or high water, this nice mother -of-two from Foxrock would be turned into a sex symbol by the magic lens was the proposition.

Hence also this guy Donal who is made up as (and fingers at Montrose are xxd the cosmetics will stick) ‘the new Irish Jamie’. Of course there are differences. Jamie was a working chef. He also came with a bit of an Essex twang –  our boy was ‘the bit of rough that’s called to take our daughter out’ as t’were. Even with the ‘pukka’ and the ‘mates’ affability, there was something a teensy bit threatening about young Mr. Oliver. In contrast, Donal looks about 14 and very wholesome and non-threatening – granny would adore him.

Such is the goodwill in the ‘meeja’ for things Irish it can’t be long before this pleasant and modestly talented kid winds up on the Beeb alongside The Fragrant Crasher of Garlic. And good luck to him. I hope success doesn’t make him a pain in the arse (and it certainly hasn’t spoiled Rachel).

Chefs are a strange and sometimes curmudgeonly breed. The sighting of an ‘amateur’ on telly, armed with naff knife skills and a ragbag of stolen recipes is wont to send them into paroxisms of anger. It’s as if their own professionalism is threatened by the very existence of these charlatans. And maybe it’s tinged with resentment that the working pros aren’t the ones who get noticed, the ones who are up there  getting fame and a fat fee for churning out a mock Caesar salad and Hasselback potatoes. Can’t say I blame them.

My own view? I don’t give a flying fuck. TV cookery programs – from  Fanny Craddock to Masterchef – are about as relevant to real life or real cooking as The Eurovision Song Contest is to real music. TV is a distortion. It gave me an irrational loathing of Anthony Worrall Thompson, a feeling wholly dispelled when I spent some time in his company at Tasting Australia.  It had me drooling over Nigella until I saw her in the flesh, on the arm of hubby Chas at his art gallery.

I know all the arguments – like, “Donal on telly will turn young lads off junk food and into cooking for themselves.”  Bollocks. I’m old enough to remember a cigarette campaign designed to appeal to the ‘Only the Lonely’ generation and turn ‘yoof’ on to a brand called ‘Strand’.  After the campaign the agency commissioned research and discovered that the new Strand smoker was a C1/C2 elderly lady who felt sorry for the  young loner in the ads and wanted to take him in out of the rain, give him a hot cup of tea with plenty of sugar. I wouldn’t mind betting that today’s ‘yoof’, looking for something raunchier, will give Donal the thumbs down. He will have a market among the mums and, of course, other food bloggers though.

At the end of the day, TV cheffing is ‘entertainment’ (the inverted commas are mine) and the best arbiter of said entertainment’s quality is not a critic or a phone-in vote but your thumb and that big button on the remote.

Mind you, I wouldn’t have minded a few bob for reproducing Alastair Little’s Crispy Squab with Chinese Seaweed or my own Double Onion Soup for a fireside audience. Bit late for that, I suppose.

ps. None of the above detracts from or alters my opinion of Donal Skehan as a food blogger. He’s energetic, he’s innovative, viz his ‘Twinner Party’ and, according to others, he’s endlessly helpful to new bloggers.

 

COOLEY & Olivier Quenet WHISKEY Masterclass

Olivier Quenet’s fine restaurant Olivier’s at The Schoolhouse occupies a great room, made even better by the warm, bright afternoon sun as I found out last Friday when I breezed in to partake of a whiskey masterclass during which some of Cooley Distillery’s finest were teamed with Olivier’s creative and tasty cuisine. In fact we got a double whammy as whiskey, carefully chosen by Olivier in conjunction with Cooley Brand Ambassador John Cashman, featured in each course.

I interviewed Cooley’s head distiller Noel Sweeney back in 1999 when the business, started by John Teeling, was but a fledgling and before stocks of aged eaux de vie (enabling the production of top quality whiskey) had built up. It really is impressive to see how the business has developed, as a player on the international drinks scene and to visualize the portfolio of premium whiskeys (many of them award winners) that has evolved from Cooley’s efforts. The Schoolhouse itself is no stranger to whiskey. Bar Manager Adam Kilbane, seeing early a revival in interest in Irish whiskey, has put together a magnificent collection, with over 80 varieties available to customers, young and old who appreciate the finer things. Olivier’s accompanying 5 course tasting menu illustrates how seriously this restaurant and gastropub takes its tipple and this menu will be served as a Father’s Day special at the restaurant over the weekend of the 18/19 of June. On the day the menu included an amuse bouche of Carlingford Oysters with a Connemara Turf Mor peated single malt jelly with a carrot and orange foam, served with a big bruising heavily peated whiskey that goes by the name of Turf Mor – should sell very well in Burnley (in-joke, football fans only). This dish, visually, was tops. A starter of Dublin Bay Prawns with organic spinach topped with a sabayon of Greenore 8 year old was tasted with Greenore 15 year old. Greenore is something of a tour de force, the 15 being named Best Single Grain Whiskey for the third year running at the World Whiskies Awards. This was followed by a delicious main course of dry aged Irish Black Angus Chateaubriand served rare, with crushed potatoes and foie gras, a forest garnish of seasonal mushrooms, chestnuts, walnuts, jus and Tyrconnell Port Finish whiskey sauce and tasted with the Tyrconnell standard range. A lovely dessert of Millefeuilles of Raspberries with a Tyrconnell Madeira Finish and honey mousse is followed by a digestif of Connemara 12 year old and, to finish, a Kilbeggan Irish Coffee. My own tastes in whiskey sub-divide into three categories. The first two are stylistic: I love two malt idioms that lie at opposite ends of the spectrum, these being the peated Scottish malts that mainly gestate from what I call the ‘Western Crescent’ – up from Campbelltown, northwards through the islands as far as Orkney. Into this category, too, I’d lump Cooley’s own Connemara, Ireland’s own peated masterpiece. Smoke, kippers, sea air, seaweed, iodine, I love those fragrances and flavours, even the ones many others find offputting – bring ‘em on. Then there are the ‘old-fashioned’ leaden, serious Irish pot still whiskeys of which the two best exemplars are Redbreast 12 year old and Green Spot, both made at Midleton by Irish Distillers. The third category is whisk(e)y for consumption as a ‘chaser’ with beer which I’ve researched pretty conscientiously, even going back beyond the recent revival of craft brewing. Here the sweet/dry, light/heavy, peated/unpeated have a role to play. There are some classic pairings – like Glenmorangie (please, not… ‘more angie’) juxtaposed with a heavily-hopped English bitter. I’ll try and cover this in greater detail on the site soon. One of the pleasures of the day was to meet a couple of food bloggers – ‘other’ food bloggers I should say, although www.forkncork.com was in existence before the term was common parlance and it’s only lately that I’ve begun to think that maybe I’m a blogger too, creep out of the woodwork and meet others of the species. Anyhow, I Can Has Cook and 9 Bean Row were charming company, great craic and I loved their enthusiasm for all things food and drink. Looking forward to visiting the latter’s ‘L.Mulligan Grocer’ gastropub too. Socialising might be just what I need – lately even I have noticed the curmudgeonly quality to my demeanor that others (thanks Ross/Aoife Fish) have remarked upon before. Lastly, I should end this diatribe by thanking Sue James who set the day up and by saying how lucky we are to have Ally Alpine’s ‘Celtic Whiskey Shop’ where these treasures can be purchased, here in Dublin. http://www.cooleywhiskey.com http://www.schoolhousehotel.com http://www.celticwhiskeyshop.com http://www.lmulligangrocer.com/

Thanks for the SLOW FISH – Genoa May 27th – 30th 2011

Slow Fish 2011, the sustainable fish event, will take place  in Genoa (Italy) from May 27 to 30.

This biennial international event dedicated to the world of fish and marine ecosystems has now reached its fifth edition. Debates, meetings, workshops and tastings will focus on issues linked to sustainable fishing and responsible seafood consumption.

A couple of days at Slow Fish, followed by a journey southward down the Ligurian coast would make a very agreeable holiday. Something I found out back in 2007.

Genoa is a historical port city in northern Italy, the capital of the Region of Liguria. As a tourist attraction Genoa is less feted than cities such as Rome, Florence or Venice. Nevertheless, it holds much of interest for the tourist with its multitude of hidden architectural gems in the narrow, winding alleys and its excellent cuisine (notably seafood). The city hosts one of  Europe’s biggest aquariums. The old port has been restored and the new one is brim-full of yachts, cruise ships and commercial vessels. It was, of course, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.

With pastel-coloured terracotta-roofed houses, historic churches, elegant seaside villas, and surprisingly good boutique shopping, Genoa is a must see if you want to experience the “quintessential” The city makes a good base from which to sally forth to explore the Italian Riviera, particularly the fishing village-cum-seaside resort Camogli, Santa Margerita Ligure (for my money one of the world’s most under-rated resorts) and, playground of the wealthy, Portofino or to walk the Cinque Terre (tip: take the train to the farthest village, Riomaggiore and walk South-North. That way you can finish by cooling off, plunging into the sea at Monterosso al Mare.)

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Slow Fish is organized by the Liguria Regional Authority and Slow Food, with the support of the Carige Foundation, the Province of Genoa, the Genoa Chamber of Commerce and the City of Genoa. One section of Slow Fish is dedicated to the international campaigns, launched by Slow Food after Slow Fish 2009.

The campaigns aim to inform consumers, promoting good, clean and fair fish and creating connections between all those working to make fishing and fish consumption sustainable. The theme of Slow Fish 2011 is ‘Small-scale fishers: a threatened species’ The 2009 salon was dedicated to fish species. This year, the spotlight turns on the people of the sea. Displays will reflect artisan fishing as it used to be, outlining the skills and hardships fisher folk incurred and contrasting it with small-scale fishing as it is now, how it has modernized, how it relates to the world and how it has suffered from globalisation.

Foodies will enjoy The Market exhibition area which offers a rich display of fresh and preserved fish, oils, spices, salt, seaweed and other related products. All the exhibitors, Italian and international, have committed to not using artificial preservatives and flavors and will not sell bluefin tuna, swordfish, shark and salmon, species at risk of extinction. The Slow Food Presidia of the Sea can also be found in the Market, offering concrete examples of how fishing communities can live in harmony with the ecosystem, preserving the marine fauna and adding value to their work by selling high-quality fresh fish and processed products. The two experiences organized in the Slow Food Education area, designed for the public and schoolchildren, offer both a look at the sea and its people and fishing techniques and rhythms from the fishermen’s perspective and also suggestions on how to select the best fish, read food labels and prepare delicious seafood at home. Chefs play a central role in consumer education, and so for the first time the Alliance Osteria will find a home at Slow Fish. Here, around 20 chefs from the Italian and international network will be preparing dishes based on Slow Food Presidia. The event will also see the return of the Water Workshops, opportunities for analysis and debate around key issues, and cooking demonstrations from chefs in the Theatre of Taste. Not to mention the Osterias of the Sea, Street Food and ‘Fishwiches’, where visitors can sample gastronomic specialties from around Italy, all paired with excellent wines from the Enoteca.

The Slow Fish website, http://www.slowfish.it reveals what’s new for the 2011 symposium, with information on bookable events and all the tastings, conferences and meetings in the program.

If you’d like to know more about sustainable fishing the BIM webiste http://www.bim.ie is a good place to start.

RESTAURANT REVIEW Leslie Williams gets behind The Great Menu Wall at Dublin’s M&L

 

… But first a note from ERNIE

Forkncork will be ten years old next year. It was, I’m pretty sure, Ireland’s first food and drink blog. In fact the term ‘blog’ though it had been invented wasn’t in common circulation here at the time. For all this time Forkncork has been MY thing, my way of communicating  my own idiosyncratic view of things foody and drinky. With the recent re-design I’ve decided to widen the site’s appeal and I’ve managed to persuade a few food and drink journos whom I know, like and respect to contribute material to Forkncork.. First up is Leslie Williams who writes on food for the Evening Herald and whose work I used to commission with pleasure when I was editor of Food & Wine Magazine. He’s also a fantastic, dedicated cook.

In the mid-1980s there were approximately 1,000 Chinese people in Ireland, today there are over 60,000, a large proportion of whom live in the Dublin area. All of these new residents want to eat Chinese food to get a taste of home which has led to dozens of new Chinese restaurants serving food aimed at their own community and (occasionally) to adventurous and persuasive Irish people. If you want to eat authentic Chinese food a little persuasiveness is important as many Chinese waiters simply do not believe that Irish people want to eat the same food that they do.

Traditional Chinese food can be challenging to western palates with a range of flavours and textures we are just not used to including slippery (cheung fun), rubbery (fish maw) and fatty (chicken feet). Most Irish people would stick with their sweet and sour chicken balls rather than order Fish Maw Soup (swim bladders) or Husband and Wife Lung Slices (mixed offal – mainly heart and tongue). It has been known for a number of months now that M&L Szechuan Chinese restaurant on Cathedral Street (just off O’Connell Street) will serve you egg yolk fried soft-shell crabs and other authentic delicacies if you beg them, but there has long been rumours of a secret menu unavailable to westerners. The only way to find out for certain was to go with two Chinese friends that can read Mandarin and to have them do all the ordering. It turns out that there is no secret menu – there is just the menu in English (an A4 sheet folded in half and laminated) and a menu in Mandarin (approx 20 pages long!). Our Chinese friends S. and L. are from Hong Kong originally but have lived in Dublin with their families off and on since the 1970s. Both consider M&L to be better than any of the Szechuan restaurants they have found in Hong Kong.

Szechuan cooking is usually about heat with lots of Szechuan chilli peppers and chilli oil but also the taste of Szechuan Pepper – the lemony, aromatic and mildly mouth numbing seed husks that have a unique flavour all their own. As is traditional we ate a la Francaise – with lots of communal dishes for everyone to share. The first dish to arrive (and one of the few we managed to finish) was a large plate of whelks in light soy flavoured sauce with firm chewy whelks and a clean fresh taste.

Next came Poached Chicken in Chilli oil which was served cold and consisted of simple cold poached chicken in stock with lots of chilli oil on top – a nice combination of bland moist chicken and hot spices but I must confess I would have preferred it hot. It is terribly authentic but I find cold chicken (particularly a slightly fatty one as this was) rather uninspiring – however I noticed S. ate the cold fat with relish. The Whole Fish in Sweet and Sour sauce had a reasonably conventional (but non-gloopy) light sweet-sour sauce and was beautifully presented. The deep frying was intriguing – it seems the flesh was pulled out from the fish and battered and the whole fish was then deep fried and covered with the sauce. The batter was light and crispy and the fish fresh – delicious but too much even for 6 of us. The fish was probably Sea Bass but we could not be sure.

Deep fried Frogs Legs in a light egg and cornflour batter (and noticable Szechuan Pepper) had a tasty light flavour with crisp batter and fresh tasting meat. We ate many of these and liked them but I did find myself spitting out bits of bone as it was difficult to see where the flesh was under all the batter. Do order these but be prepared to spit! Deep Fried Prawns cooked in Salted Eggs Batter seemed to be in a similar rub as the soft shelled crabs tasted on previous visits to M&L. Salted eggs are duck eggs aged in brine until the yooks go bright orange and turn powdery – the large shelled prawns tasted of salty-sweet powdered egg and were spanking fresh – another dish we finished. No Szechuan meal would be complete without Dan Dan Noodles – white flour and water noodles with minced beef and preserved vegetables and peanuts in a strong Szechuan pepper sauce. Once again the bland (noodles) melded well with the spicy szechuan and chilli sauce. Steamed Rice, Chinese Cabbage, Tsing Tao beer and Green Tea accompanied the meal which came to under 100 euro and would easily have fed 10 people (us six left many dishes half finished). Other dishes worth ordering (according to our friends) include Razor Clams, Dumplings, Szechuan Aubergines (chilli overload) and the hot pot (a meat fondue).

Let me finish with a rallying cry – it is up to us food enthusiasts to visit restaurants like M&L regularly and confound their explanations so they will translate their menu!

If you are interested in learning more about Szechuan cuisine I recommend Fuschia Dunlop’s Szechuan Cookbook http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sichuan-Cookery-Fuchsia-Dunlop/dp/0140295410 or her memoir: Sharks Fin and Sichuan Pepper http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sharks-Fin-Sichuan-Pepper-sweet-sour/dp/0091918324/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1

M&L Szechuan Chinese Restaurant 13 Cathedral Street, Dublin 1, Tel: 01 874 8038

IRISH FOOD WRITERS GUILD AWARDS 2011 – artisan producers honoured

 

Now in its 17th year, the Irish Food Writers Guild (IFWG) Food Awards were originally conceived to promote and reward the indigenous, independent producers that are the lifeblood of the food industry in Ireland. In these days of hugely hyped awards (in which, I should declare I’ve played my part!) and elaborate voting systems of the “more mates you have, the likelier you are to win” ilk it’s worthwhile stressing the integrity of the IFWG awards. To show you what I mean, here’s the Judging Process:- No company or individual can submit an entry for these awards. Every member of the Guild (a group of around 30 of Ireland’s significant food writers) is invited to nominate products they believe are worthy. The products must be produced in Ireland and the main ingredient must be home produced. The producer must be trading for at least three years. Products are bought and paid for and a formal tasting meeting is convened. After all products have been tasted members vote, using proportional representation. The producers nominated would have absolutely no idea; the winners would only know shortly before the award ceremony – principally because we like them to have product at the reception for guests to taste. Also because the chef responsible for the awards lunch needs to be familiar with the winning produce as they will be incorporated into the menu on the day.

Everyone involved can be proud of these awards.

This year’s awards went to Janet Drew for Janet’s Country Fayre Beetroot Blush (Wicklow); Brian and Lindy O’Hara for Coopershill House Irish Venison (Sligo); Pat O’Neill for O’Neill Foods’ Dry Cured Rashers, Bacon and Ham (Wexford), with a special Environmental Award going to John Flahavan of Flahavan’s (Waterford).  Artisan baking innovator Derek O’Brien received the Guild’s rarely-awarded Lifetime Achievement Award. Derek, a former head of the Baking Department at DIT and head of the Baking Academy of Ireland, was honoured for so successfully passing on his passion for bread-making and his considerable skills to the next generation and helping ensure the survival of traditional craft baking in Ireland.

At the award ceremony, held again at L’Ecrivain, IFWG Chairperson Orla Broderick said, “Now, more than ever, we need to be supporting our local producers, many of whom are suffering as a result of rising costs; cheap, low quality imports and the obvious fact that our economy has contracted significantly.   If retailers fail to make room on the shelves for our indigenous producers and if we, as consumers, fail to support them, we will in a short space of time witness the demise of dozens of small and medium-sized producers, who will simply be squeezed out of business.”

Saying that we should recognize “an opportunity for Ireland” Darina Allen, standing in for IFWG president Myrtle Allen to present the awards, commented, “Ireland is one of Europe’s largest dairy and beef exporters, and home to several world-class firms and hundreds of food artisans. All this comes at a time when the global demand for food is projected to increase by 70% over the next 40 years. The affluent world is demanding locally grown, non-polluting, traceable, transparent food, which is exactly what we in Ireland can produce.”

ABOUT THE WINNERS

Flahavan’s is one of Ireland’s longest privately-owned, family-run businesses and has been operating in Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford for over 200 years. It is the only remaining oat mill in Ireland. The company has invested heavily in environmental initiatives: water power from the mill stream and state-of-the-art energy efficient dryers and boilers (fuelled by chaff, a by-product of oats), generate energy for the production process and heating for the mill and offices;  A €500,000 investment in a 4,000 ton storage unit for organic oats; sourcing oats from local growers and persuading them to increase their acreage of organic oats are amongst the other environmental benefits that have been implemented to save air and sea miles.  Flahavan’s is now close to realising its ambition of sourcing 100% of its organic oats in Ireland and of being 100% self sufficient in energy. Flahavan’s received an environmental award for its impressive array of ingenious initiatives thatenhance the environment.

Reinventing herself from art historian in the National Gallery of Ireland to artisan producer of a fine range of chutneys, relishes and sauces, Janet Drew has created something truly special with her Beetroot Blush relish.  A rich-coloured, delicate flavoured, sweet sour relish made from the humble Irish-grown beetroot and Irish apples, Beetroot Blush is infinitely versatile and has proved a bestseller everywhere. Working from her base in Rathcoole, Co. Wicklow, Janet is responsible for the product production, in-house design and label printing, storage and distribution of all Janet’s Country Fayre products.

Lindy and Brian O’Hara have been rearing fallow deer on the 500 acre estate of Coopershill House, situated in the beautiful unspoilt countryside of Co. Sligo, since 1995. The deer lead a natural, free range life, grazing on hilly land which features soil that is either marl (clay) or a little boggy. The land has been in grassland for fifty years, encouraging a variety of natural herbage which contributes to the unparalleled quality, complex flavour and tenderness of Coopershill House Irish Venison.

Pat O’Neill produces hand-crafted, dry-cured, tender, well-flavoured bacon and ham, low in salt, with no phosphates and no added water – just pure tasty bacon. It’s a world away from commercially wet-cured bacon. Pat supplies to many leading chefs in the south-east including Eugene O’Callaghan of Kelly’s of Rosslare, who was recently awarded the Georgina Campbell Hotel Breakfast of the Year. Output has grown by 10% every year. Pat has not increased his prices for over five years and the product offers real value for money.

Derek O’Brien’s journey began with an indentured apprenticeship and a signed  agreement between his father and his master baker stating that, “he would be an excellent worker, a good time keeper, would not frequent wine taverns, or consort with loose women.” Since then he has graduated through the ranks of Johnston Mooney & O’Brien, Marks & Spencer, studied his craft in the UK and Germany and was for a number of years, the Head of the Baking Dept. at DIT. Derek now runs the Baking Academy of Ireland in Palmerstown and is as dedicated as ever to ensuring hand-crafted traditional bread baking is kept alive in Ireland.

Michelin star restaurant l’Ecrivain again played host to the awards where Sally Anne and Derry Clarke treated Ireland’s food press and leading industry figures to a special menu, created using the winning produce. The one-off menu was complemented by a selection of wines from Gleesons incorporating Gilbeys and Tipperary Natural Mineral Water, an Irish product now in its 25th year of production.

Derry’s  menu comprised:

Derek O’Brien’s Bread Basket

Whiskey cured smoked salmon with Janet’s Country Fayre Beetroot Blush and citrus mayonnaise

Coopershill House Irish Venison loin with pumpkin purée and a black pudding filo cigar

O’ Neills Foods Dry-Cured Bacon salad with figs and an apple & honey dressing

Flahavan’s mille feuilles flapjacks with lemon cream

Thanks were also expressed  to Bord Bia for their continued support of the Irish Food Writers Guild Awards and for the loan of their kitchen for the tasting meeting.